A selection of 11 short films made by Montclair State University film students made it onto the big screen at Clairidge Theater on Oct. 23, where they had the opportunity to showcase their senior thesis films for friends, family and avid movie-goers as a part of the MSU New Visions program.
2021 marks the Montclair Film Festival’s 10th anniversary and first year back with fully in-person screenings since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic started back in 2020. Last year, they held a hybrid festival; the in-person screenings premiered at a drive-in.
The newly renovated Clairidge Theater (once known as Bow Tie Cinemas), which had been closed since the pandemic, is owned and operated by the nonprofit, Montclair Film.
Montclair Film took substantial COVID-19 safety precautions. All guests were required to show their vaccination card with a valid ID along with their ticket. Guests were also required to wear a mask at all times indoors unless they were eating or drinking.
Montclair State’s top student filmmakers presented a wonderful collection of visually compelling and emotionally powerful short films. The selections were diverse and particularly unique from each other. There was a film for lovers of any genre. These varied from comedy, drama, documentary, experimental and much more.
Rose Kershner, a senior communication and media arts major, came out to support her friends’ films.
“I got to see so many other student films, which were so good and just so many different things that I’ve never even thought about or heard about,” Kershner said. “So, it was awesome.”
“The Art of Colored Mush” is a documentary short on claymation and visual effects artist Spaghetti Jesus. Shot and edited by 2021 alumna Charlee Reiff, the film displays intriguing visuals and reveals the intensive time and dedication it takes to create claymation projects.
Reiff had several supporters come out to see the final product of her film, which made for a really special moment for the filmmaker.
“It was definitely fulfilling,” Reiff said. “This is also one of the first times I’ve been back in theaters since [COVID-19]. So, that on top of it being my movie and movies of my friends, it was a really wonderful, communal experience.”
Directed by alumnus Anthony Chidichimo, who graduated in spring 2021, “Mob Mentality” is a short film that came across as a love letter to mafia films and the state of New Jersey itself. The cinematography, dialogue and story are reminiscent of mob classics like “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos.”
Yet, Chidichimo managed to make it his own and had the theater roaring.
“I was really happy about that,” Chidichimo said. “It was surreal because, you know, I used to watch movies all the time growing up, and obviously I wanted to be a filmmaker. Just being in that moment, being on the big screen it’s like, ‘Oh my god, there it is! There’s my artwork on the screen!’ Seeing it on the big screen, that’s the dream.”
Niko Lento, a theatre studies alumnus, came out to support his long-time friend Chidichimo and felt exceedingly proud.
“It’s so insane because I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen movies here with my friends,” Lento said. “So, it’s so incredibly surreal and incredible to see his film on the same screens that we would see movies on together.”
One film that really resonated with the problems COVID-19 brought to this country was senior Adam Chhour’s “7 O’Clock.” It tells the story of a young Asian doctor who navigates his way through a day at work, feeling the weight of helping those battling the COVID-19 virus and the hostility against Asian Americans that came with it.
There has been a rapid increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic. Stemming from the misinformation about the spread of the virus being the fault of Asian people, some violent attacks resulted in the tragic deaths of many.
Chhour brilliantly captures the struggle in which Asian essential workers on the frontlines are torn between feeling like heroes one moment and being portrayed as villains the next.
“The biggest part of why I created this film was to show awareness of the problems that we face as an Asian community,” Chhour said. “The biggest part was that people weren’t aware of what was happening to us. The racism, the harassment, the violence that we have endured during the COVID-19 pandemic was something that I really wanted to show.”
Each and every film left an impact on the audience and received assuring acclamations. The MSU New Visions program proved the immense talent that Montclair State’s filmmaking students wield. Each filmmaker unequivocally left their mark in the world of film.